I’ve been to FACT to see Pedro Almodovar’s latest, Broken Embraces. I always enjoy his films which despite the fact that they generally deal in the tropes of melodrama and romantic comedy, always seem to avoid stereotypes but instead are inhabited by genuine characters who – in the midst of lies and skulduggery – care for each other.
While Broken Embraces is not up there with Volver or Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (which it references), it’s still a hugely rewarding film, beautifully photographed and with polished acting. It concerns a blind screenwriter, Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), who has rejected his former identity as film-maker Mateo Blanco. Flashbacks to the early 1990s reveal that Blanco was involved in a passionate affair with Lena (Penélope Cruz), who stars in Blanco’s new movie ‘Girls and Suitcases’ (the scenes we see are reworkings of Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). It features a film within a film within a film: Lena is also the mistress of the unscrupulous industrialist financing the picture, who gets his son to film the making of ‘Girls and Suitcases’ in order to keep an eye on her, creating a parallel narrative of the ‘making of’ film.
The film is set first in Madrid and then moves to Lanzarote. In one scene the main couple are looking at a beach and he is taking photos while she holds him. They don’t notice at the time, but on the beach below an embracing couple mirror them and can be seen at the bottom of the picture he takes. The photo which is used in the film had been taken by Almodóvar on an earlier visit there. He also hadn’t seen the couple and discovered them when he got the print from the developers. The couple watch Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1954), where Ingrid Bergman is shaken by the sight of an embracing couple frozen by the lava at Pompeii.
There’s a moving image towards the end of the film, when Harry Caine begins recutting ‘Girls and Suitcases’; sightless, he reaches out to the screen where the film playing. His fingers are spread, in silhouette, attempting to grasp the image of Lena, to reclaim the past.
‘Don’t smile…the wig is fake enough’.